The Monday morning college basketball report while looking forward to more heated conference play this week:
Air Force: The Mountain West is rugged, there is no doubt, and the Falcons are exhibit A. They probably won’t be an NCAA tournament team, but they upset San Diego State 70-67 Saturday for their fifth straight victory. They’re 14-6 and all their losses are excusable, at Colorado, Wichita State, Florida, at Richmond, at Vegas and Colorado State. The academy will not be an easy stop for even the best Mountain West teams. Coach Dave Pilipovich is in his first full year and was an assistant to Tommy Amaker at Michigan.
Florida: The Gators have been vaporizing the competition. They won their first seven SEC games by at least 15 points. Mississippi gave them a little bit of competition Saturday, but the Gators still won, 78-64. The Gators are also doing something they’re haven’t necessarily been known for: playing defense. They’re second in the nation in scoring defense at 50.4 (sounds like Princeton in the old days, doesn’t it?) Here’s what Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy said Saturday: "This is my seventh Florida team to play. One of those was the national championship team that had NBA lottery picks on it. I don't even remember a Florida team guarding with that intensity. I was really impressed with the way they defended."
Memphis: Conference USA can’t compete with the Tigers, as seen in Saturday’s 94-64 victory over Tulsa. The Tigers are 7-0 and have a 12-game winning streak.
Montana: The Grizzlies have run rough-shod over the Big Sky, streaking to a 12-0 record. Going back to last season, they’ve won 23 straight conference games.
Saint Louis: I thought the Billkens were overrated in the preseason, when some publications had them in the Top 25, and they were projected second in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll. The season started and the Bills lost a home game to Santa Clara. It confirmed my belief. After this week, I take it back. Playing defense that Ray Lewis would be proud of, the Billkens totally dismantled Butler (75-58) and Dayton (81-52). They’re an NCAA team and first-round matchup to avoid.
Iona: A lost weekend in Buffalo for the Gaels that can’t be redeemed by a trip to the Anchor Bar or Chef’s. The Gaels, who had been emerging as the team to beat in the MAAC, lost to Niagara in overtime and then fell to Canisius (aka Baron and Son) 77-74.
Lamar: What a disaster this season has become for Pat Knight after he took the Cardinals to the NCAA Tournament last season. After losing to the Southland’s best team, Stephen F. Austin, 65-51, the Cardinals are 2-20 overall and 0-10 in the conference.
Mississippi: The Rebs had a nine-game winning streak going, but then got a rude awakening in losing at home to Kentucky and on the road to Florida. I still like Marshall Henderson, I respect the passion.
Oregon: A lost weekend in the Bay Area as the Ducks were humbled by Stanford and then doubled their pain by losing to Cal. Just when people were thinking they were good.
Wichita State: The Shockers’ at-large chances took a big hit this week when they lost at home to Indiana State and then failed to execute at game’s end and lost at Northern Iowa.
This week’s George Mason (best mid-major): Belmont. The Bruins have won 10 in a row and most of them have been of the blowout variety. They’re beating teams by nearly 14 points per game.
This week’s Final Four: Indiana, Michigan, Duke, Kansas. This group is unchanged. Michigan got roughed up early, but fought back before losing at Indiana, can’t hold that against them. Kansas lost at home to Oklahoma State, which is surprising, but we’ll stick with the body of work and keep the Jayhawks in the Final Four. Florida and Miami are hovering near this group.
This week’s national champion: Indiana
- Michael Vega
- Mark Blaudschun
- Nancy Marrapese-Burrell